In geotechnical engineering, drilling mud, also known as spud mud (when beginning the drilling process), is a drilling fluid used to drill boreholes into the earth. Often used while drilling oil and natural gas wells and on exploration drilling rigs but can also be used for much simpler boreholes, such as water wells. The main classification scheme used broadly separates the mud into 3 categories based on the main component that makes up the mud:
- ‘Water Based Mud’ (WBM). This can be sub divided into Dispersed and Non-Dispersed
- ‘Non Aqueous’ or more commonly ‘Oil Based Mud’ (OBM) this also includes synthetic oils (SBM).
- Gaseous or Pneumatic mud.
Details of Use
On a drilling rig, mud is pumped from the mud pits through the drill string where it sprays out of nozzles on the drill bit, cleaning and cooling the drill bit in the process. The mud then carries the crushed rock ("cuttings") up the annular space ("annulus") between the drill string and the sides of the hole being drilled, up through the surface casing, and emerges back at the surface. Cuttings are then filtered out at the shale shakers and the mud returns to the mud pits.
The returning mud can contain natural gases or other flammable materials. These can collect in and around the shale shakers area or in other work areas. There is a potential risk of a fire, an explosion or a detonation occurring if they ignite. In order to prevent this safety measures have to be taken. Safety procedures, special monitoring sensors and explosion-proof certified equipment has to be installed, e.g. explosion-proof certified electrical wiring or control panels. The mud is then pumped back down and is continuously recirculated. After testing, the mud is treated periodically in the mud pits to give it properties that optimize and improve drilling efficiency.
The main functions of a Drilling Mud
can be summarised as follows:
Remove cuttings from well
Drilling fluid carries the rock excavated by the drill bit up to the surface. Its ability to do so depends on cutting size, shape, and density, and speed of fluid traveling up the well (annular velocity). These considerations are analogous to the ability of a stream to carry sediment; large sand grains in a slow-moving stream settle to the stream bed, while small sand grains in a fast-moving stream are carried along with the water. The mud viscosity is another important property, as cuttings will settle to the bottom of the well if the viscosity is too low.
Other properties include:
- Most drilling muds are thixotropic (i.e. they gel under static condition). This characteristic keeps the cuttings suspended when the mud is not moving during, for example, maintenance.
- Fluids that have shear thinning and elevated viscosities are efficient for hole cleaning.
- Higher annular velocity improves cutting transport. Transport ratio (transport velocity / lowest annular velocity) should be at least 50%.
- High density fluids may clean hole adequately even with lower annular velocities (by increasing the buoyancy force acting on cuttings). But may have a negative impact if mud weight is in excess of that needed to balance the pressure of surrounding rock (formation pressure), so mud weight is not usually increased for hole cleaning purposes.
- Higher rotary drill-string speeds introduce a circular component to annular flow path. This helical flow around the drill-string causes drill cuttings near the wall, where poor hole cleaning conditions occur, to move into higher transport regions of the annulus. Increased rotation are the best methods in high angle and horizontal beds.
Suspend and release cuttings
- must suspend drill cuttings, weight materials and additives under a wide range of conditions.
- drill cuttings that settle can causes bridges and fill, which can cause stuck-pipe and lost circulation.
- weight material that settles is referred to as sag, this causes a wide variation in the density of well fluid. More frequently occurs in high angle and hot wells.
- high concentrations of drill solids are detrimental to;
- drilling efficiency (it causes increased mud weight & viscosity which in turn increases maintenance costs and increased dilution)
- Rate of Penetration (ROP) (increases horsepower required to circulate)
- mud properties that suspended must balanced with properties in cutting removal by solid control equipment.
- for effective solids controls, drill solids must be removed from mud on the 1st circulation from the well. If re-circulated, cuttings break into smaller pieces and are more difficult to remove.
- conduct a test to compare the sand content of mud at flow line and suction pit (to determine whether cuttings are being removed).
Control formation pressures
- if formation pressure increases, mud density should also be increased, often with barite (or other weighting materials) to balance pressure and keep the wellbore stable. Unbalanced formation pressures will cause a blowout from pressured formation fluids.
- hydrostatic pressure depends on mud weight and True Vertical Depth. If hydrostatic pressure is greater than or equal to formation pressure, formation fluid will not flow into the wellbore.
- well control means no uncontrollable flow of formation fluids into the wellbore.
- hydrostatic pressure also controls the stresses caused by tectonic forces, these may make wellbores unstable even when formation fluid pressure is balanced.
- if formation pressure is subnormal, air, gas, mist, stiff foam or low density mud (oil base) can be used.
- in practice, mud weight should be limited to the minimum necessary for well control and wellbore stability. If too great it may fracture the formation.
Seal permeable formations
- when mud column pressure exceeds formation pressure, mud filtrate invades the formation, and a filter cake of mud is deposited on the wellbore wall.
- mud is designed to deposit thin, low permeability filter cake to limit the invasion.
- problems occur if a thick filter cake is formed; tight hole conditions, poor log quality, stuck pipe, lost circulation and formation damage.
- in highly permeable formations with large pore throats, whole mud may invade the formation, depending on mud solids size;
- use bridging agents to block large opening, than mud solids can form seal.
- for effectiveness, bridging agents must be over the half size of pore spaces / fractures.
- bridging agents (i.e calcium carbonate, ground cellulose).
- depending on the mud system in use, a number of additives can improve the filter cake (i.e bentonite, natural & synthetic polymer, asphalt and gilsonite).
Maintain wellbore stability
- chemical composition and mud properties must combine to provide a stable wellbore. Weight of mud must be within the necessary range to balance the mechanical forces.
- wellbore instability = sloughing formations can cause tight hole conditions, bridges and fill on trips (same symptoms indicate hole cleaning problems).
- wellbore stability = hole maintains size and cylindrical shape.
- if the hole is enlarged, it becomes weak and difficult to stabilize, causes problems (low annular velocities, poor hole cleaning, solids loading and poor formation evaluation)
- in sand and sandstones formations, hole enlargement can be accomplished by mechanical actions (hydraulic forces & nozzles velocities). Reduced by conservative hydraulics system. Good qualities filter cake containing bentonite to limit the enlargement.
- in shales, mud weight is usually sufficient to balance formation stress, and wells are usually stable. With water base mud, chemical differences cause interactions between mud & shale and can lead to softening. Highly fractured, dry, brittle shales can be extremely unstable (leading to mechanical problems).
- various chemical inhibitors can control mud / shale interactions (calcium, potassium, salt, polymers, asphalt, glycols and oil – best for water sensitive formations)
- oil (and synthetic oil) based drilling fluids are used to drill most water sensitive Shales in areas with difficult drilling conditions.
- to add inhibition, emulsified brine phase (calcium chloride) drilling fluids are used to reduce water activity and creates osmotic forces prevent adsorption of water by Shales.
Minimizing formation damage
- skin damage or any reduction in producing formation natural porosity and permeability (washout)
- most common damage;
- mud or drill solid invade formation matrix
- swelling of formation clays within reservoir, reduce permeability
- precipitation of solids of mud filtrate to formations fluids or to the other fluids forming insoluble salts
- mud filtrate & formation fluids forming an emulsion (blocking reservoir pores)
- specially designed drill-in fluids or workover and completion fluids, minimize formation damage.
Cool, lubricate & support the bit and drilling assembly
- heat is generated from mechanical and hydraulic forces at the bit and when drill-string rotates and rubs against casing and wellbore.
- cool and transfer heat away from source and lower to temperature than bottom hole.
- if not, bit, drillstring and mud motors would fail more rapidly.
- lubricity base on Coefficient of friction. Oil and synthetic bases lubricate better than water based mud (but can be improved by the addition of lubricants).
- amount of lubrication provided by drilling fluid depends on type & quantity of drill solids and weight materials + chemical composition of system.
- poor lubrication causes high torque and drag, heat checking of drillstring but aware these problem also caused by key seating, poor hole cleaning and incorrect bottom hole assemblies design.
- drilling fluids also support portion of drill-string or casing through buoyancy. Suspend in drilling fluid, buoyed by force equal to weight (or density) of mud, so reducing hook load at derrick.
- weight that derrick can support limited by mechanical capacity, increase depth so weight of drill-string and casing increase.
- when running long, heavy string or casing, buoyancy possible to run casing strings whose weight exceed a rig’s hook load capacity.
Transmit hydraulic energy to tools and bit
- hydraulic energy provides power to mud motor for bit rotation and for MWD (measurement while drilling) and LWD (logging while drilling) tools. Hydraulic programs base on bit nozzles sizing for available mud pump horsepower to optimize jet impact at bottom well.
- limited to;
- pump horsepower
- pressure loss inside drillstring
- maximum allowable surface pressure
- optimum flow rate
- drillstring pressure loses higher in fluids higher densities, plastic viscosities and solids.
- low solids, shear thinning drilling fluids such as polymer fluids, more efficient in transmit hydraulic energy.
- depth can be extended by controlling mud properties.
- transfer information from MWD & LWD to surface by pressure pulse.
Ensure adequate formation evaluation
- chemical and physical mud properties and wellbore conditions after drilling affect formation evaluation.
- mud loggers examine cuttings for mineral composition, visual sign of hydrocarbons and recorded mud logs of lithology, ROP, gas detection or geological parameters.
- wireline logging measure – electrical, sonic, nuclear and magnetic resonance.
- potential productive zone are isolated and performed formation testing and drill stem testing.
- mud helps not to disperse of cuttings and also improve cutting transport for mud loggers determine the depth of the cuttings originated.
- oil base mud, lubricants, asphalts will mask hydrocarbon indications.
- so mud for drilling core selected base on type of evaluation to be performed (many coring operations specify a blend mud with minimum of additives).
Control corrosion (in acceptable level)
- drill-string and casing in continuous contact with drilling fluid may cause a form of corrosion.
- dissolved gases (oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide) cause serious corrosions problems;
- cause rapid, catastrophic failure
- may be deadly to humans after a short period of time
- low pH (acidic) aggravates corrosion, so use corrosion coupons to monitor corrosion type, rates and to tell correct chemical inhibitor is used in correct amount.
- mud aeration, foaming and other O2 trapped conditions cause corrosion damage in short period time.
- when drilling in high H2S, elevated the pH fluids + sulfide scavenging chemical (zinc).
Facilitate cementing and completion
- cementing is critical to effective zone and well completion.
- during casing run, mud must remain fluid and minimize pressure surges so fracture induced lost circulation does not occur.
- mud should have thin, slick filter cake, wellbore with no cuttings, cavings or bridges.
- to cement and completion operation properly, mud displace by flushes and cement. For effectiveness;
- hole near gauges
- mud low viscosity
- mud non progressive gel strength
Minimize impact on environment
Mud is, with varying degree, toxic. It is also difficult and expensive to dispose of in an environmentally-friendly manner.
A Vanity Fair article
described the conditions at Lago Agrio, a large oil field in Ecuador where drillers were effectively unregulated. Texaco
, the drilling company, left the used mud (and associated cuttings and crude oil) in unlined open-air pits, allowing it to contaminate both surface and underground waters. Storing mud properly is very expensive. After a decade of drilling, Texaco considered transferring the mud waste at Lago Agrio to concrete-lined pits, but estimated that it would cost over 4 billion dollars (US).
a) Mud Selection
- select drilling fluid system for particular well
- cost, availability of products and environmental factors
b) Mud Properties vs Functions
- different properties affect particular function
- must recognized and design their influence on all function and relative importance for each function
c) When Functions Clash
- always requires tradeoffs in treating and maintaining the properties needed to accomplish required functions
- how to improve one function while minimizing the impact of mud property changes on other functions
Composition of drilling mud
Water-based drilling mud may consist of bentonite clay (gel) with additives such as barium sulfate (barite), calcium carbonate (chalk) or hematite. Various thickeners are used to influence the viscosity of the fluid, eg. Xanthan Gum, guar gum, glycol, carboxymethylcellulose, polyanionic cellulose (PAC), or starch. In turn, deflocculants are used to reduce viscosity of clay-based muds; anionic polyelectrolytes (eg. acrylates, polyphosphates, lignosulfonates (Lig) or tannic acid derivates such as Quebracho) are frequently used. Red mud was the name for a Quebracho-based mixture, named after the color of the red tannic acid salts; it was commonly used in 1940s to 1950s, then was made obsolete when lignosulfonates became available. Many other chemicals are also used to maintain or create some of the properties listed in the section titled "Purpose".
The name given to an oil field service company individual who is charged with maintaining a drilling fluid or completion fluid system on an oil and/or gas drilling rig
. This individual typically works for the company selling the chemicals for the job and is specifically trained with those products, though independent mud engineers are still common. The work schedule of the mud engineer
or more properly Drilling Fluids Engineer
, is arduous, often involving long shifts.
In offshore drilling, with new technology and high total day costs, wells are being drilled extremely fast. Having two mud engineers makes economic sense to prevent down time due to drilling fluid difficulties. Two mud engineers also reduce insurance costs to oil companies for environmental damage that oil companies are responsible for during drilling and production.
The cost of the drilling fluid is typically about 10% (may vary greatly) of the total cost of well construction, and demands competent mud engineers. Large cost savings result when the mud engineer performs adequately.
The mud engineer is not to be confused with mudloggers, service personnel who monitor gas from the mud and collect wellbore samples.
The compliance engineer is the most common name for a relatively new position in the oil field, emerging around 2002 due to new environmental regulations on Synthetic Mud (USA). Previously synthetic mud was regulated the same as water based mud and could be disposed of in offshore waters due to low toxicity to marine mammals. New regulations restrict the amount of synthetic oil that can be discharged. These new regulations created a significant burden in the form of tests needed to determine the "ROC" or retention on cuttings, sampling to determine the percentage of crude oil in the drilling mud, and extensive documention.
It should be noted that no type of oil/sysnthetic based mud (or drilled cuttings contaminated with OBM/SBM) may be dumped in the North Sea. Contaminated must either be shipped back to shore in skips or processed on the rigs.
A new monthly toxicity test is also now performed to determine sediment toxicity. The species used is Leptocheirus plumulosus picture Various concentrations of the drilling mud are added to the environment of the Leptochirus plumulosus to determine its effect on the animals. This is controversial for two reasons:
- These animals are not native to many of the areas regulated by them, including the Gulf of Mexico
- The test has a very large standard deviation and samples that fail horribly may pass easily upon retesting